Below is a listing of commonly used archaeological terms. Click on each term to see its definition.
Apply for ...
A state site number
An archaeologist license
Archaeologist site publications
The OSA Survey Manual
A speaker for an event
Learn about ...
Archaeology in Minnesota
Becoming an Archaeologist
Laws related to Minnesota archaeology
An archaeological site or find
Give us your feedback
Subscribe for email updates
Below is a listing of commonly used archaeological terms. Click on each term to see its definition.
The post-Paleoindian cultural tradition characterized by the disappearance of lanceolate projectile points and the appearance of stemmed and notched points beginning about 8000 B.C. Other Archaic developments include ground stone tools, domestic dogs, cemeteries, copper tools, and diverse hunting-gathering economies. The Archaic lasts until about 500 B.C.
A discrete location containing evidence of past human activity that holds significance for archaeologists.
The scientific study of important physical remnants of the cultural past for the purpose of better understanding human history.
Natural or artificial articles, objects, tools, or other items manufactured, modified, or used by humans that are of archaeological interest.
A short stick with a top hook on one end and finger grips on the other used for hand-propelling large darts to increase range and power. Atlatls become increasing popular in the Archaic Period.
To establish the presence of or high potential of human burials or human skeletal remains being located in a discrete area, to delimit the boundaries of human burial grounds or graves, and to attempt to determine the ethnic affiliation of individuals interred. Only the State Archaeologist is authorized to authenticate historic burial sites in Minnesota.
Before Present; this is an expression of age measured by radiocarbon dating with "present" set at 1950, the first year radiocarbon dating became available. It is more correctly stated as "radiocarbon years before present" or RCYBP. It does not mean the same as "years ago" because raw radiocarbon dates need to be corrected for several inherent errors in order to be converted to actual calendar years.
The organic remnants of the human body intentionally interred as part of a mortuary process.
A discrete location that is known to contain or has high potential to contain human remains based on physical evidence, historical records, or reliable informant accounts.
A group of sites or phases linked by trade or behavioral similarities, but not necessarily of the same ethnic, linguistic, or cultural grouping (e.g., Hopewell)
A discrete cultural entity at a particular site; one site can have multiple components (e.g., prehistoric and historic, multiple prehistoric)
The initial period of intensive Euro-American and Indian interaction prior to the signing of any major treaties (1650 - 1837)
The relationship between artifacts and where they are found, such as depth from surface, association with soil or cultural features, or cultural component assignment. Not the same as historic context.
The identification, protection, and interpretation of archaeological sites, historic structures, and other elements of cultural heritage though survey, evaluation, and treatment strategies. This is used by most archaeologists, while historians and architects use the term historic preservation.
Any activity that significantly harms the physical integrity or setting of an archaeological site or human burial ground.
Non-artifactual evidence of human activity at an archaeological site usually expressed as noticeable soil disturbances such as pits and hearths. It can also refer to masonry walls and other structures at historical archaeological sites.
The study of the earth's surface and how it has evolved generally with regard to soils and sediments.
Objects or artifacts directly associated with human burials or human burial grounds that were placed as part of a mortuary ritual at the time of internment.
An organizational construct that groups related property types (e.g., archaeological sites) together based on a similar culture, geographical distribution, and time period. The Minnesota SHPO has developed a number of statewide historic contexts for the Precontact, Contact, and Post-Contact periods. An example of a Precontact context is Clovis. Not the same as context used in a purely archaeological sense.
Synonymous with the Contact and Post-Contact periods when artifacts of Euro-American manufacture are present or written records available; begins about 1650.
A technological or behavioral attribute with broad geographical distribution, but not necessarily at the same time (e.g., fluted point horizon); also a particular layer within an archaeological site.
Made of stone; lithic artifacts are generally manufactured by either chipping or flaking high quality materials (e.g., chert, chalcedony) to produce tools such as knives, scrapers, and projectile points or by grinding or pecking granular rocks (e.g., sandstone, granite) to produce tools such as mauls, hammerstones, or axes.
An archaeological site evidenced almost exclusively by the presence of stone tools or stone tool manufacture.
A Late Prehistoric cultural tradition associated with developments originating at the Cahokia site on the Mississippi River across from St. Louis. Characteristics include the use of shell-tempered pottery, intensive corn horticulture, settled village life, and small triangular arrowheads. Mainly found in southern Minnesota, it lasts from about A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1650.
An archaeologist who meets the United States Secretary of the Interior's professional qualification standards in Code of Federal Regulations, title 36, part 61, appendix A, or subsequent revisions. These standards require that the archaeologist has a graduate degree in archaeology or a closely related field, has at least one year's full-time experience doing archaeology at the supervisory level, and has a demonstrated ability to carry research to completion. There are specific additional standards for prehistoric, historic, and underwater archaeologists.
A widespread Late Prehistoric manifestation in the Midwest that features shell-tempered ceramics whose economies combine corn horticulture and diverse wild-food subsistence. Oneota begins about AD 1000 and lasts into historic times. Many Oneota groups are Siouan speakers.
The earliest major cultural tradition in the New World characterized by the use of well-made lanceolate projectile points and the hunting of now extinct animals such as mammoth and giant bison. It is dated to 12,000 B.C. - 8000 B.C.
A temporal span often associated with a particular cultural tradition (e.g., Woodland)
A design inscribed into a rock face by grinding, pecking or incising; examples can be seen at the Jeffers site in Cottonwood County and Pipestone National Monument.
A geographically discrete taxonomic unit represented by a group of sites with cultural and temporal similarity (e.g., Fox Lake in southwestern Minnesota)
Synonymous with a reconnaissance survey; a survey whose objective is to find archaeological sites, map the horizontal limits of the sites, and define the basic historic periods present.
Synonymous with an evaluation survey; intensive fieldwork whose objective is to determine the significance of an archaeological site by assessing the site's research potential as demonstrated by the robustness of the identifiable historic contexts present and the integrity of artifacts and features associated with those contexts. Significance is generally equated with eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places.
Synonymous with a treatment activity or site excavation; very intensive fieldwork generally done to mitigate the adverse effects of development upon a significant archaeological site through data recovery utilizing numerous formal excavation units or other intensive investigative methods.
A design painted or drawn on a rock face.
A Late Prehistoric cultural tradition associated with the establishment of settled village life along major river valleys in the Great Plains. Characteristics include the use of globular pots that are smooth surfaced and grit tempered as well as intensive corn horticulture and fortifications. Found in western Minnesota, the tradition lasts from about A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1500.
The period of Euro-American as opposed to Indian dominance in Minnesota beginning with the first major land cession treaties in 1837.
The time period dating from the earliest human occupation (ca. 12,000 BC) up to the significant incursion of European culture (ca. 1650); synonymous with Prehistoric Period.
Synonymous with the Precontact Period (see above); sometimes divided into Early (12,000 - 5000 B.C.), Middle (5000 B.C. - A.D. 1000), and Late (A.D. 1000 - 1650).
Radiocarbon Years Before Present means the measured aged of a radiocarbon sample with Present set at 1950, the first year of extensive radiocarbon dating. Because all dates are subject to inherent errors, the actual age of any sample needs to be corrected. The error can be thousands of years for dates over 10,000 RCYBP.
Refers to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which states that federal agencies must consider the impacts their undertaking have on significant historic properties and consult with knowledgeable entities (e.g., MnHPO) about these impacts.
The Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is the principal state contact for the purposes of the federal historic preservation program, which includes the National Register of Historic Places, disbursing grant funds to local governments, and insuring compliance with Section 106.
A prehistoric culture based on long-lasting artifact types or archaeological features (e.g., Paleoindian)
An archaeological site where a particular cultural context or artifact type is first recognized.
The post-Archaic cultural tradition first identified in the Eastern Woodlands of the United States. It is characterized by the appearance of pottery and burial mounds. Wild rice use becomes intensive in northern Minnesota with limited corn horticulture eventually appearing in the southern part of the state. Woodland begins about 500 B.C. and lasts until A.D. 1650 in northern Minnesota, but is replaced by Plains Village and Mississippian cultures in southern Minnesota about A.D. 1000.